You wouldn't usually associate a price of £150 or so with a high-definition camcorder, let alone one that's capable of producing 1080p video. Yet here we have the Kodak Zi8. This pocket-friendly device promises plenty of camcorder for not very much cash, but can it deliver the goods?
Small and simple
A pocket camcorder in the Flip Video vein, the Zi8 compares well to its close rivals in terms of size and shape. It doesn't look much like a camcorder at all and, while its styling isn't exactly going to set the design world on fire, the device is small and light enough to slip easily into a pocket or handbag without causing much of a bulge. Whip it out in public and its candybar shape will fool most people into thinking you're filming with a camera phone.
The Zi8 is probably the simplest camcorder we've ever used. Switch it on, select the mode you want to use from the horizontal on-screen menu, and press the red button to start and stop recording. That's all there is to it. Start-up is fast, at around 2 seconds, and there are no fiddly set-up requirements or complicated settings to wrestle with.
A very basic, eight-option menu is available to set the date, switch face recognition on or off, adjust the screen's brightness and so on, but that's pretty much the extent of the Zi8's complexity. This means that you need to rely on automatic settings for focus, exposure, white balance and so on, but, for those who just want to get on with filming, it's ideal.
Performance-wise, the Zi8 surprised us with some pretty impressive results in both our video and photo tests. We're talking comparatives here, though -- there's no way that a camcorder of this type could ever compete with a full-size high-definition camcorder in terms of image quality. Judge it alongside its peers, however, and the Zi8 comes out pretty well.
There are three HD settings -- 1080p at 30 frames per second, 720p at 60fps, and 720p at 30fps. There's also a standard-definition mode. The lower the quality the more footage you can fit onto your SD memory card. Top-resolution image quality is fairly good, although, in our tests, we found that, for some reason, colours are stronger and the overall image is sharper at the 720p setting.
Photo quality isn't bad either, although, once again, you'd be able to get more detail and more control over your shots by using a similarly priced compact camera.
A poor built-in microphone means that recorded audio is somewhat weak. The surprise inclusion of an external microphone socket and level meter (both of which are usually reserved for top-end models) helps to address this issue.
The main problem with the Zi8 is something that could easily be perceived as a plus point by many people -- its simplicity. By making it as simple to use as possible, Kodak has stripped the Zi8 of virtually all manual controls. Aside from a landscape/close-up focus switch, this means you're more or less at the mercy of the unit's automatic functions. We have to admit that the Zi8's auto adjustments perform better than those of some other pocket camcorders we've tested, but there are still moments when you'll notice that the image is over- or under-exposed, or suffering from white-balance issues.